Ukraine Conflict Monitor, May 9-16, 2017

Ukraine 101:

  • Among the moves that then-Ukraine’s central bank Chief Valeriya Gontareva oversaw were deals offering PrivatBank central bank refinancing to strengthen the lender’s balance sheet. But at least $1.8 billion of that money quickly vanished into bad loans, according to the Anti-Corruption Action Center. The bailout of PrivatBank, which was once owned by pro-government oligarch Ihor V. Kolomoisky, has cost the Ukrainian government more than the entire IMF budget aid received since the 2014 revolution. (New York Times, 05.12.17)

West’s leverage over Russia:

  • No significant developments.

Russia’s leverage over West:

  • Sixty percent of French voters favored pro-Kremlin candidates in the first round of the presidential election, according to American journalist Christian Caryl. (The Washington Post, 05.12.17)
  • A top Kremlin foreign-policy adviser has threatened retaliatory measures against U.S. officials in response to Washington's closure of Russian diplomatic property in the United States last year. (RFE/RL, 05.12.17)

Russia’s leverage over Ukraine:

  • No significant developments.

Casualties and costs for Russia, West and Ukraine:

  • The Ukrainian military said on May 12 that two of its servicemen were killed and six wounded in the previous 24 hours. On May 13, authorities in Ukraine reported that four civilians were killed when Russia-backed separatists fired into a residential area of the town of Avdiyivka. Six Ukrainian servicemen were wounded in the security operation (ATO) zone in Donbas from May 14-May 15, the ATO press center headquarters said. On May 16, the ATO press center headquarters said two more Ukrainian servicemen were wounded. One serviceman of the self-proclaimed Donetsk People’s Republic was wounded in shelling conducted from the positions of the Ukrainian army, a spokesman for the DPR’s operations command said on May 14.  (BBC, 05.15.17, BBC, 05.16.17, TASS, 05.14.17, RFE/RL, 05.13.17, RFE/RL, 05.12.17)
  • EU foreign ministers have backed maintaining sanctions against Russia following a major Brussels summit, according to the Polish foreign minister. The sanctions, which were first imposed in 2014, come up for renewal every six months and were last extended by the European Council in December, meaning EU leaders must decide at their June summit whether to maintain the measures and, if so, for how long. (, 05.15.17, Politico, 05.12.17)
  • Ukraine will block several top Russian websites, including VKontakte and Odnoklassniki, social networks with broad popularity across the former Soviet Union. On May 15, Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko signed an order imposing new sanctions on Russia for three years. (The Moscow Times, 05.16.17)

Impact of Russia’s actions vis-à-vis Ukraine on other countries:

  • Germany has begun the process of upgrading 103 out-of-service Leopard 2A4 and 2A6 tanks to the latest model, the Leopard 2A7V—an upgrade that will cost the state the equivalent of 760 million euros ($833 million). The big news is that by revamping and deploying these new vehicles, the Bundeswehr is expanding its tank fleet by over 40%, from 225 to 320 main battle tanks. (The National Interest, 05.13.17)
  • The U.S. navy needs to expand its fleet and maritime capability to remain competitive as other nations such as China and Russia seek to strengthen their naval power, Chief of Naval Operations Adm. John Richardson said on May 16. (Reuters, 05.16.17)

Red lines and tripwires:

  • The Czech government has approved a Defense Ministry plan to deploy almost 300 troops in the Baltics as part of NATO forces. In another development, U.S. defense officials have raised the possibility that a Patriot missile battery could be deployed to the Baltic region during NATO exercises this summer. The drills, named Tobruk Legacy, will focus on air defense and take place this summer. The move, if finalized, would be temporary. (AP, 05.10.17, RFE/RL, 05.10.17, AP, 05.10.17, New York Times, 05.10.17)

Factors and scenarios that could cause resumption of large-scale hostilities or lead to accident between Western and Russian forces in Europe:

  • A Russian military jet came within about 20 feet of a U.S. Navy Poseidon surveillance plane while it was flying in international air space over the Black Sea near Crimea, the Pentagon said on May 12. The Russian jet was armed with six air-to-air missiles, making this episode "highly provocative," one official said, as it is very rare for a Russian jet to intercept a U.S. aircraft while visibly armed. Otherwise, the encounter was "safe and professional," the Pentagon said. (RFE/RL, 05.13.17)
  • The U.S. military will increase its ability observe Russian troop movements near the Baltic states during a large military exercise planned by Moscow this summer, U.S. defense officials said. The Russian exercise, known as Zapad, or West, will take place this year in western Russia, including Belarus and the Russian enclave of Kaliningrad. The U.S. military estimates that 70,000 to 100,000 Russian troops could take part in the exercise. U.S. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis said he had “no concerns” about the upcoming Zapad exercise, adding that’s it routine and he hopes “it stays routine.” (The Washington Post, 05.10.17)

Arming and training of Ukrainian forces by Western countries:

  • No significant developments.

Strategies and actions recommended:

  • Stephen Kinzer, a senior fellow at the Watson Institute for International and Public Affairs at Brown University, wrote: “In this new world, the United States will need allies. Europe will be one, but Europe is tearing itself apart with a nihilistic abandon that almost matches our own. Its strategic power is limited. So is its ambition. Blowback from centuries of imperialism and war has made Europeans gun-shy. The United States will have to look elsewhere for a strategic partner. Ultimately we are likely to settle on Russia.” (The Boston Globe, 05.14.17)


  • No significant developments.

Other important news:

  • U.S. President Donald Trump posted photos of his separate meetings with the top diplomats of Ukraine and Russia on Twitter and urged the two nations to "make peace." Trump held a rare, unannounced Oval Office meeting with Ukraine’s Pavlo Klimkin after a meeting with Russia’s Sergei Lavrov. During his meeting with Lavrov on May 10, Trump raised the subject of Ukraine, and expressed his administration’s commitment to remain engaged in resolving the conflict, stressing Russia’s responsibility to fully implement the Minsk agreements, according to a White House account of the meeting. (RFE/RL, 05.12.17, Russia Matters, 05.10.17)
  • Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov held talks with U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, on May 10discussing Syria, Ukraine and other matters that have sent U.S.-Russian relations plummeting to Cold War-era lows. A bare-bones description given by Tillerson’s spokesman suggested the official agenda included the new Russian plan for safe zones in Syria, the campaign against the Islamic State, weapons development in North Korea and the continued Russian activity in Ukraine. (New York Times, 05.10.17, Wall Street Journal, 05.10.17, RFE/RL, 05.10.17) 
  • Ukraine's government is pushing U.S. President Donald Trump’s administration to take a direct role in peace talks over eastern Ukraine, the country's foreign minister said May 15, including possible three-way talks with Moscow and Kiev on ending the violence. Ukrainian Foreign Minister Pavlo Klimkin said he had discussed the ideas in Washington meetings last week with Trump and U.S. Vice President Mike Pence. (Wall Street Journal, 05.15.17)
  • Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko says a visa-liberalization deal with the European Union marks his country's "divorce from the Russian Empire." (RFE/RL, 05.12.17)
  • During his official visit to Israel, Ukrainian Prime Minister Volodymyr Groysman met with Israeli Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman to discuss opportunities for bolstering military and technical cooperation between the two countries. (Interfax, 05.16.17)
  • Ukrainian police investigating the car-bomb killing of Belarus-born journalist Pavel Sheremet are sifting through a new documentary film's claims about the unsolved case, including that a current or former Ukrainian security agent was present when the explosive was planted. (RFE/RL, 05.11.17)
  • Ukrainian soldiers are being bombarded by text messages likely dispatched by cell site simulators. Some are crude threats, while others play on allegations that Ukraine's billionaire president, Petro Poroshenko, is lining his pockets as soldiers fight in the field. Several of the roughly four dozen messages collected carried spelling mistakes typical of Russian speakers trying to write in Ukrainian. Others came from nonsensical numbers or were sent at impossible times, hinting at electronic fakery. (ABC News, 05.11.17)